PitchWars 2014 is here. Have you Got what it takes?

I’m going to keep this as short as I can (which probably means not short at all), mostly because I’m currently running “Mommy Camp” (summer break = no break for mom) and my six-year-old daughter tends to prefer playing outside versus watching me tap at these keys (shocking, right?).  So if you have a Women’s Fiction, Literary, or Marriage Thriller book, and it’s fresh and shiny (to be clear, to me “shiny”=POLISHED, not first draft material) and you’re simply BURSTING to get a solid critique, PRETTY PLEASE SEND IT TO ME. No, really. Go to the submission form (on August 18th), put my name on it, and hit SEND. For everything you need to know about how to submit, including the amazing agents playing along, head on over to Brenda Drake’s blog.

But Karma, I can hear you saying — why would I choose you over any one of the other amazing/talented/accomplished/(and likely funnier and more clever with their bio) mentors? I’m so glad you asked.

1. I may be the most thorough critique out there. Well, perhaps I’m overstating this BUT my critique partners talk about my “cocoon” of notes. Meaning I line edit, focusing not only on the bigger things like themes, pacing, tension, and characterization, but also on the little details. I promise you a manuscript riddled with track changes. I am a, um, tough critique (consider yourself warned), but isn’t that exactly what you want out of an experience like this? (If you answered, “not really” to this last question might I suggest a different mentor?) Together we will make your manuscript the best it can be — if you’re in, I’m in. (Also, check out my mentee’s success story from the last PitchWars!)

2. I’ll be there for you after the contest ends. Seriously, ask any of my #TeamGoodKarma mentees from last year, and they’ll tell you we still exchange emails, and I’m happy to offer advice, give feedback, and tweet the heck out of their good news. Writing can be a lonely, isolating endeavour, so the more we can stay connected to one another and support each other the better.

3. I’m an avid reader, and a focused writer. While I write upmarket women’s fiction, my reading tastes vary from young adult, to (light) urban fantasy, to everything in between. I also read A LOT, even when I’m on deadline, and I think I might shrivel up and die if I couldn’t read. Is that melodramatic? Maybe, but it’s true. Which means I also love reading the books my critique partners write, and why I can’t wait to read your manuscript! As for my own writing, I get up nearly every morning at 5 am (if you’re an early morning writer and on Twitter check out #5amwritersclub — that crew has kept me going many an early morning) and write for a couple of hours before I have to put on my mom hat.

Want to know a bit more about me? I live near Toronto, Canada (if you would like to know the appropriate way to insert ‘eh’ into a conversation, I’m glad to help), am happily married, am mom to a beautiful daughter and an equally handsome labradoodle named Fred, and love to run, read, bake, and drink coffee (another one of the great pleasures of life). I also wish I could go to Hogwarts, am addicted to chocolate-covered jujubes, and haven’t slept in past 6am in, oh, six years. My day job is freelance writer, and I write mostly lifestyle/parenting articles for magazines. I’m also an 11-year cancer survivor, and pretty damned pleased to still be here to say that. I’m represented by Carolyn Forde, who is the most supportive and determined agent an author could ever ask for. I’ve blogged the twists and turns of my road to publication, in case you’re interested. My debut novel Come Away with Me will be out next July (Mira/Harlequin), and my second book will come out about a year later.

Me and the mini. This is pretty much how you’ll find me on any given day, unless I’m writing!

Now how about a wishlist? If I were to generalize, the books I’m most drawn to have complicated issues, big hearts, and pretty words.

What I’d love to see:

  • Women’s Fiction — think book club/upmarket (commercial with a literary feel, including those with magical realism, and in a perfect world, magic AND food): WHAT ALICE FORGOT (or anything by Liane Moriarty), AFTER I DO (Taylor Jenkins Reid), THE PILOT’S WIFE (Anita Shreve), ME BEFORE YOU (Jojo Moyes), WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE (Maria Semple), GARDEN SPELLS (Sarah Addison Allen), LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (Laura Esquirel), PRACTICAL MAGIC (Alice Hoffman)
  • More literary (still with a commercial feel) — LITTLE BEE (Chris Cleave), THE DINNER (Herman Koch), THE NIGHT CIRCUS (Erin Morgenstern)
  • Marriage/Psychological Thrillers — GONE GIRL (Gillian Flynn), THE SILENT WIFE (A.S.A Harrison), and though it’s still on my TBR pile, if your book is anything like Natalie Young’s SEASON TO TASTE (look it up, trust me when I say this is a strange and compelling idea for a book), I would love to see it. I also just finished THE GOOD GIRL (Mary Kubica) and have determined I’m a psychological thriller fan. In truth, it’s pretty hard to scare me away with a concept!

What’s probably not for me (though you never know, I am open to having my mind changed…):

  • Fantasy & Sci-fi
  • Romance
  • Crime
  • Anything boring or not polished (wait, did I say that out loud?)

Also, if you own a tattered copy of ON WRITING by Stephen King, and have at one time or another mentioned something about “killing your darlings,” we are sure to get along.

I’m trying to curb my GIF addiction, but will leave you with one of my favourites (<= note the Canadian spelling) — this will be me, opening the submissions and finding THE book (your book?) I can’t wait to read and critique.

 

Don’t forget to check out the other mentors’ blogs — click below and start doing your homework …

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You did what?!

Whoa. It’s been a while since I posted. My only excuse is that I’ve been down a writer’s rabbit hole, and am only now popping up to see the light!
Here’s a brief rundown of the crazy events of the past few weeks. My last post talked about the pitch contest I entered, and why I’m a fan of such events. Well, that contest led to an agent request, which was exciting! Then I decided to play along with a twitter pitch contest running a few days later, put on by the same creative minds behind the Pitch Madness contest. THAT led to a small press publisher partial request!

And here’s where things went crazy.

 

That small press pub partial request (query and the first 25 pages of the manuscript) turned into a full request (!) … and a few days later, an offer of publication.

This. Was. Exciting. Like, really (REALLY) exciting. I was in Florida on vacay with the family, trying to sort out what I wanted to do. If I took the offer it meant my book could be in the hands of readers (or rather, on the screen of their e-readers, as it was a digital only press) by the end of 2013. Now small press publishing hadn’t been something I’d considered before. I have been set on the idea of getting an agent first. I really believe in the partnership of agent-author, and that felt like the right path for me.

But to be published by year end? Tempting …

However, there were some challenges with the offer, including editorial changes I wasn’t sure about. Contracts can be tricky and sticky, and I didn’t love the idea of slugging through that process on my own.

So I did what some lovely writer friends advised and sent notification of the offer to the agents I had queried. There weren’t that many of them, because I had only sent out a handful of queries before this all happened, but I ended up with eight agents reading my full manuscript by the end of the week.

To make a long story short (although I suspect it’s too late now, because this story is already long…), by the deadline I had one agent who offered representation and the publication offer on the table. I very carefully considered both offers, and then turned them down.

Many may think this was a crazy decision. Isn’t that exactly what I wanted, after all? Well, yes, but it wasn’t that simple. Through the passing agents’ feedback I got a good handle on what’s really working in my story — plenty of compliments on my writing and the ‘freshness’ of my premise and concept. However, I also sorted out what wasn’t working … and I wanted a chance to fix that on my own first. In truth, while both were GOOD offers, neither was the right fit for me … or my book — for reasons that aren’t important to mention here. But in my gut I knew I had to take a step back and start anew. So that’s what I did.

I have no regrets about my decision, even when I’m struggling through my revisions and feeling like I may never get it all done. Writing is like anything else — if your heart, head, and gut are not aligned, you need to reevaluate what you’re doing. That has never let me down before, and I’m confident it won’t this time either.

Off I go back down my rabbit hole again … see you when I see you …

 

 

To pitch, or not to pitch …

If you’re a writer, on Twitter, and have at least one completed manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ve participated in a pitch contest (if not, why not?).

So far I’ve entered four: one was on a blog where you submitted your query letter and first 100 words, and an agent would give feedback and make requests; another was a ‘first pages’ contest, where you submitted your first 250 words; yet another was a based on query letter and your first 250 words (also for agent requests); and the most recent one is Pitch Madness (curious about this one? It’s running right now and you can learn all about it over at the amazing Brenda Drake’s blog).

In the first contest I didn’t get a request, and the agent called my query “confusing”, BUT I did get great feedback from her on voice. Excellent. I took this as a win.

In the second one, the first pages contest, I actually won. Which earned me a query critique (rewritten multiple times since the ‘confusing’ comment) from an agent, and she had lots of good things to say. Win, win.

In the third contest, I didn’t make it to agent round but once again got good feedback on both query and first words. Also, I met one of my critique partners through this contest. Win, win, win.

In the meantime, I shelved that first manuscript and wrote another one, The Doctor’s Daughter, which is women’s fiction with a dash of magical realism. You can read the excerpt here (reworked from the excerpt below, which is what I entered for Pitch Madness … also, I’ve changed my main character’s name, but I’ll post on that another day). There were a few GREAT contests running while I was finishing up my edits, and while I SO wanted to be the impatient writer and enter them, I’ve waited until now.

Why? Because entering an unpolished manuscript into a contest is like serving undercooked chicken at a dinner party — pink chicken makes you sick, and guarantees your friends will NEVER eat at your house again. Similarly, an unfinished or imperfect manuscript guarantees you’ll disappoint (anger) agents who might be hooked by your pitch/first words, and good luck getting them to request anything from you again!

Pitch Madness is still running, so I’m not sure how my entry will shake out in the end. I made it through Round #1, where slush readers (aka ‘slush zombies’) read through 420+ entries and whittled them down to 167 to go through to Round #2. I’m one of those 167, which is great, and I hope I make it into Round #3, which is when the final 60 entries get a shot at grabbing an agent’s attention. But whether I go through or not, there’s a lot of amazing stuff I’ve taken out of playing along:

  1. It’s FUN: Contests can be super stressful — especially when hints are being tweeted out, which amps up the excitement AND obsessive nature of querying writers. But for me, I find them more invigorating than stressful — it’s exciting, watching and wondering how your entry is faring, and ultimately it’s an opportunity to learn, learn, and learn some more.
  2. It’s GOOD PRACTICE: Getting ready for Pitch Madness meant polishing my 35-word pitch (and this is SUPER TRICKY, taking 80,000+ words and turning them into only 35), perfecting my query letter, and making sure my manuscript is as good as I can get it (read: polishing, not fussing). On the note of getting pitch-ready, I know my limits and enlisted help — if you’re looking for query/pitch critiques, Lauren Spieller is awesome (she’s a writer and agency intern, but runs a query critique biz on side).
  3. It’s EDUCATIONAL: Before I started paying attention to contests I had no clue what Steampunk / Speculative Fiction / New Adult / Fantasy vs. Urban Fantasy really meant. I’ve loved learning all the different genres, and what writers can do to make their books stand out — including within my own genre!
  4. It’s a COMMUNITY: I’ve talked about writers helping writers before, and what a kick I get out of that. I have been both on the receiving and giving end of this, and think it’s one of the VERY BEST THINGS about being a writer these days. And social media makes it easy for us to connect — to support each other, be cheerleaders, offer critiques, and celebrate successes.
  5. It’s MOTIVATING: When I know a contest is coming up, especially a big one like Pitch Madness, I push my Type A into high gear and am always amazed by what I can do with a deadline. Also, I love seeing the success stories … and there are plenty that come out of contests … because on those days where the writing feels impossible, or I’m sure it’s never, ever (ever) going to happen for me, those stories remind me to ‘buck up, buttercup’. Hard work trumps all. So don’t give up.

So on that note, here’s my Pitch Madness entry:

Title: THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER
Genre: Women’s Fiction (magical realism)
Word Count: 83,000

Pitch: Following an odd premonition and news of her father’s death, surgeon Penley Attwater is forced to return to her traditional hometown, only to become a surrogate for her late parents’ one remaining embryo—her sister.

Excerpt:

Like always, it started in my toes.

As if stepping into a too hot bath, the prickly warmth enveloped my feet before reaching into my thighs with fiery fingers. Then the heat wave crashed into my chest, quickly moving higher to mark my cheeks with blistering circles. Under the garish bathroom light my sweaty face glowed neon pink. I took a few deep breaths and waited. Soon it would be over.

Many middle-aged women know this well: the menopausal hot flash. But today was only my twenty-eighth birthday, so I was nowhere near the change. Besides, I’d been getting them since I was about six years old.

If only I understood why.

“Penley?” The soft rap of his knuckles against the cheap wooden door startled me, and I knocked over the toothbrush holder that sat on the edge of the sink. With a soft plop our toothbrushes landed in the toilet bowl and quickly sunk to the bottom.

“Shit!” I said, too loud for the small bathroom.

“Hey, you okay in there?” Bradford tried the knob and I was glad I’d locked the door.

“I’m fine!” I leaned heavily against the sink, queasy from the heat.

Silence. “All right, but don’t take too long,” he finally said, his voice retreating. “I have a surprise for you.”I held my breath, letting it out when our mattress squeaked Bradford’s return.

Back when I was a child the flashes always ended in a raging fever, which had been resistant to any remedy my physician father could come up with.

Tough skin

Well, it’s Friday. Otherwise known as ‘rejection day’ for my inbox. Must be a day where agents clean out emails and slushpiles, because I always seem to get rejections on Fridays.

So my stats after this latest reject: 7 queries sent. 5 rejections. 1 still out in email la-la-land. And 1 request for a (hip hip hooray!) full manuscript. With my one positive response, I’m running just over a 10% success rate, which apparently puts me in the ‘normal’ querying category; some might even say ‘good.’

Honestly, the rejections haven’t broken through my thick skin (yet). I never expected every agent to say yes. I’m thrilled one did, but I know there are plenty more rejections coming to my inbox. In the meantime, I’ve made some big changes to my manuscript. I’ve added plot, and cut out cheesy writing and anything that felt excessive. I’ve completely changed the first, and last chapters. I’m toying with a title change. I’ve added a character. Increased the bad news factor for a few others. I’ve killed a few of my ‘darlings’. I’ve revamped my query, yet again. I’ve listened in on two webinars, one about writing awesome first pages (hence the first chapter changes) and one about the dreaded synopsis (which I will blog about shortly, if I survive the process).

Both the webinars came with a critique element, so my first two pages (before I revised, though) are sitting with an agent, and my synopsis is getting a critique next week. I’m also entering this query contest, where I expect (hope) to be torn to shreds. I welcome it. Otherwise, how will I learn? How will I become a better writer?

I remember an interesting convo I had on Face.book a few months ago. It was around receiving feedback on WIPs. I was amazed at how many writers didn’t want to be critiqued, or felt they weren’t ready. Bottom line? Take the feedback and make your work better. Ask to be critiqued, even if you have one page complete and you think it kind of sucks.

Because no one is born with tough skin. You have to grow the layers.